Born: February 6, 1453, Florence
Died: August 1542, Florence
Buried: San Marco, Florence
Buried alongside: Giovanni Pico della Mirandola
Church: San Marco is the name of a religious complex in Florence, Italy. It comprises a church and a convent. The convent, which is now a museum, has three claims to fame. During the XV century it was home to two famous Dominicans, the painter Fra Angelico and the preacher Girolamo Savonarola. Also housed at the convent is a famous collection of manuscripts in a library built by Michelozzo.
Address: Via Camillo Cavour, 50, 50121 Firenze, Italy (43.77764, 11.2581)
The present convent occupies the site where a Vallombrosan monastery existed in the XII century, which later passed to the Sylvestrine monks. Both of these groups were branches of the Order of St. Benedict. In the time of the Sylvestrines at least, the church was used both for monastic liturgical functions and as a parish church. From this initial period there have recently been rediscovered some traces of frescoes below floor level. In 1418 the Sylvestrines, accused of laxity in their observance of the Rule, were pressured to leave, but it took a direct intervention of Pope Eugene IV and the Council of Basel before finally in 1437 the buildings were vacated at San Marco and passed to observant Dominicans coming from the Convent of San Domenico, Fiesole. A decisive element was the intervention of Cosimo de' Medici the Elder, who since 1420 had already shown his support for the reformed Franciscan convent of Bosco ai Frati and from his return from exile in 1434 had made clear his desire to see an observant community of Domenicans established in Florence. When the Sylvestrines left, housed from that time onwards in the smaller monastery of San Giorgio alla Costa left, Dominican friars took over the San Marco buildings, which were in a poor condition and for two years or so were obliged to live in damp cells or wooden huts. They appealed to Cosimo de' Medici the Elder, who lived nearby in the family palace, now known as the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, to fund the renovation of the entire complex. So it was that in 1437 Cosimo commissioned Michelozzo, the Medici’s favourite architect to rebuild the San Marco convent on Renaissance lines. By 1438 the work was well underway and the final dedication took place on Epiphany night 1443 in the presence of Pope Eugene IV and the Archbishop of Capua, cardinal Niccolò d'Acciapaccio. San Marco became one of the main elements in the new configuration of the area to the North of the centre of Florence (the so-called “Medici quartiere”, along with the Medici family palazzo and the basilica of San Lorenzo. These years marked in fact the height of the Medici family’s artistic patronage, above all in connection with the transfer to Florence of the Ecumenical Council from Ferrara to Florence in 1439. Cosimo invested in the new convent a notable amount of finance, amounting to some 40,000 florins according to Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Michelozzo working on San Marco from 1439 to 1444. An outstanding feature of the convent is the library on the first floor, spacious with two rows of columns which form three naves covered in barrel vaulting. The large number of windows fill the room with natural light for study and for the copying of manuscripts. Under Lorenzo il Magnifico the library became one of the favourite meeting points for Florentine humanists such as Agnolo Poliziano and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola who could conveniently consult the precious book collections assembled by the Medici, with their rare Greek and Latin texts. Both are among the significant figures buried in San Marco.
Who: Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (February 24, 1463 – November 17, 1494) and Girolamo Benivieni (February 6, 1453 – August 1542)
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola was an Italian Renaissance nobleman and philosopher. He is famed for the events of 1486, when at the age of 23, he proposed to defend 900 theses on religion, philosophy, natural philosophy, and magic against all comers, for which he wrote the Oration on the Dignity of Man, which has been called the "Manifesto of the Renaissance", and a key text of Renaissance humanism and of what has been called the "Hermetic Reformation". Giovanni was born at Mirandola, near Modena, the youngest son of Gianfrancesco I Pico, Lord of Mirandola and Count of Concordia (1415–1467), by his wife Giulia, daughter of Feltrino Boiardo, Count di Scandiano. The family had long dwelt in the Castle of Mirandola (Duchy of Modena), which had become independent in the XIV century and had received in 1414 from the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund the fief of Concordia. Mirandola was a small autonomous county (later, a duchy) in Emilia, near Ferrara. The Pico della Mirandola were closely related to the Sforza, Gonzaga and Este dynasties, and Giovanni's siblings wed the descendants of the hereditary rulers of Corsica, Ferrara, Bologna, and Forlì. A precocious child with an exceptional memory, Giovanni was schooled in Latin and possibly Greek at a very early age. Intended for the Church by his mother, he was named a papal protonotary (probably honorary) at the age of ten and in 1477 he went to Bologna to study canon law. At the sudden death of his mother three years later, Pico renounced canon law and began to study philosophy at the University of Ferrara. During a brief trip to Florence, he met Angelo Poliziano, the courtly poet Girolamo Benivieni, and probably the young Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola. For the rest of his life he remained very close friends with all three, including the ascetic and anti-humanist Savonarola. From 1480 to 1482, he continued his studies at the University of Padua, a major center of Aristotelianism in Italy. In 1494, Pico and his friend Angelo Poliziano died, under mysterious circumstances. Past historians hinted at death by poisoning, but more recent scholars suspect that Poliziano and Pico numbered among the first victims of the large-scale epidemic of syphilis – marked by acute symptoms and very rapid physical deterioration – which broke out in Europe in 1493 and 1494. He was interred at San Marco and Savonarola delivered the funeral oration. Ficino wrote: “Our dear Pico left us on the same day that Charles VIII was entering Florence, and the tears of men of letters compensated for the joy of the people. Without the light brought by the king of France, Florence might perhaps have never seen a more somber day than that which extinguished Mirandola's light.” In 2007, the bodies of Poliziano and Pico della Mirandola were exhumed. Scientists under the supervision of Giorgio Gruppioni, a professor of anthropology from Bologna, used current testing techniques to study the men's lives and establish the causes of their deaths. These forensic tests showed that both Poliziano and Pico likely died of arsenic poisoning, and arsenic was used to cure syphilis. Girolamo Benivieni was a Florentine poet and a musician. His father was a notary in Florence. He suffered from poor health most of his life, which prevented him from taking a more stable job. He was a leading member of the Medicean Academy, a society devoted to literary study. He was a friend of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, whom he met for the first time in 1479; it was Mirandola who encouraged him to study Neoplatonism. In the late 1480s, he and Mirandola became students of Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498). In 1496, he translated the teachings of Savonarola from Italian to Latin. After he began following Savonarola, he rejected his earlier poetry and attempted to write more spiritually. He participated in Savonarola's Bonfire of the Vanities, and documented the destruction of art worth "several thousand ducats". Pico experienced an heavenly love with Benivieni, ten years his junior, who ardently reciprocated his affections. Theirs was, they declared, a fervent but chaste love kept under watch by rigorous morality and Christian mysticism. However, during a sermon after Pico's death, Savonarola made a revelation which caused a sensation: Pico's soul had not immediately gone to paradise, but was consigned for a time to the flames of purgatory because of certain sins, which he did not wish to name. Popular opinion assumed that Pico had kept a female lover or a secret concubine. Five centuries later, it is impossible to know the truth, but the probability that Pico had a male lover, perhaps Benivieni himself, is now less unbelievable, as documents emerge showing the significance of homosexuality in the circle of Pico's friends (such as Ficino and Poliziano). It will never be known whether or not Pico remained celibate, or if his love for Benivieni was consummated. What is known is a delicate testimonial to this love: the tomb in which they decided to be buried together, and which can still be seen in the church of San Marco in Florence.
Queer Places, Vol. 3 edited by Elisa Rolle
Release Date: July 24, 2016
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